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For Immediate Release, November 30, 2010

Contacts:  Todd Steiner/Teri Shore, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 663-8590 x 103/104
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308

Quick Action Needed on New Import Rules to Save Whales, Seals, Other Marine Mammals From Foreign Fishing Operations

WASHINGTON— Conservationists and more than a dozen members of Congress from key coastal fishing states are urging federal fishery managers to move quickly on new rules to ensure that seafood imports are on par with U.S. protections for whales, seals and other marine mammals.

New regulations by the National Marine Fisheries Service will require that foreign fishing fleets reduce marine mammal bycatch. Foreign nations that sell fish to the U.S. market will need to establish protections that reduce incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals to levels comparable with domestic fisheries, as mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Evidence shows that foreign fishing fleets kill hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. Swordfish fleets, which use gillnets and longlines, are particularly deadly and kill an estimated 300,000 marine mammals annually, according to researchers at Duke University.

“It is more important than ever that we equally work to protect both the interests of our domestic fisheries and decrease harmful bycatch of our ocean’s marine mammals,” said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), who circulated the congressional letter. “I am encouraged that NMFS has begun to move on regulations that will hold seafood imports to domestic standards, as well as increase the protection of the world’s ocean mammals.”

“Fishing by the same rules is a win-win for fishermen and marine animals,” said Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Our fisheries, along with the oceans, will benefit if overseas fleets follow the same rules and stop capturing whales, sea turtles and other endangered ocean wildlife.”

“Swordfish or tuna on your plate may lead to a death by a thousand hooks for dolphins, whales and sea lions,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States must encourage foreign fishing fleets to clean up their act and let marine mammals off the hook.”

“For years, hundreds of thousands of marine mammals have met their untimely deaths at the end of a hook and throes of a net,” said Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Until now, we’ve been endorsing a double standard regarding seafood caught domestically and what is imported. Unless we actually obey the law and adopt rules to ensure our imported seafood meets the same bycatch standards we hold domestic seafood to, we will continue to undermine our global efforts to protect marine mammals.”

Dozens of nations that export wild-captured fish such as swordfish and tuna to the United States have never proven that their fishing practices protect marine mammals as required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Specifically, Section 101(a)(2) of the Act [16 U.S.C. § 1371(a)(2)], requires that the United States “ban the importation of commercial fish or fish products that have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of marine mammals in excess of United States standards.” 

An advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to define U.S. standards and describe procedures for enforcing those standards for protecting marine mammals under the Act was published on April 30, 2010. The deadline for public comment was extended to Aug. 30, 2010. Federal fishery managers are now reviewing comments and preparing to begin formal rulemaking.

The rulemaking process resulted from a legal petition filed in 2008 by the Turtle Island Restoration Network and Center for Biological Diversity, which sought enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and an immediate ban on swordfish imports. This rulemaking is broader and seeks to establish and define U.S. standards for all imported seafood, which may take years. The congressional letter is intended to help speed up the process and focus on the highest-bycatch foreign seafood, including swordfish and tuna.

Dolphin protection is covered under separate international and U.S. “dolphin-safe” laws, as is the capture of sea turtles in shrimp trawls and the use of “turtle excluder devices.”


Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is an environmental organization working to protect and restore endangered marine species and the marine environment on which we all depend. Visit and

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. See

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana and Beijing. Visit us at

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